If I hear one more syllable about spindles, I shall…
Tomorrow is my sixteenth birthday. I do not suppose it…
Free of the encumbrance that is Lady Brooke, I fairly…
What they don’t tell you about Europe is how
“Good thing we got food first,” Travis says on the…
When I was a kid, back when my family was…
It’s a castle. Not a modern-looking one like
I stare at her. I’ve never seen a human being…
She’s awake! It really is like Snow White! Holy crap!…
Things get a little crazy then. There’s Travis at the…
Jack and Talia
Two Years Later
About the Author
Other Books by Alex Flinn
About the Publisher
f I hear one more syllable about spindles, I shall surely
From my earliest memory, the subject has been worn
to death in the castle, nay, in the entire kingdom. It is said
that spindle, rather than Mama or Papa, was my first word
in infancy, and I have little doubt that this is true, for ’tis
the word which lights more frequently than any other upon
my most unwilling ears.
“Talia, dearest, you must never touch a spindle,” Mother
would say as she tucked me into bed at night.
“I will not, Mother.”
“Vous devez ne jamais toucher un axe,” my tutor would
say during French lessons.
“I will not,” I told him in English.
“If ye spy a spindle, ye must leave it alone,” the downstairs
maid said as I left the castle, always with my governess, for
I was never allowed a moment alone.
Every princeling, princess, or lesser noble who came to
the castle to play was told of the restrictions upon spindles—
lest they have one secreted about their person somewhere,
or lest they mistakenly believe I was normal. Each servant
was searched at the door, and thread was purchased from
outside the kingdom. Even peasants were forbidden to have
spindles. It was quite inconvenient for all concerned.
It should be said that I am not certain I would know a
spindle if I saw one. But it seems unlikely that I ever shall.
“Why must I avoid spindles?” I asked my mother, in
my earliest memory.
“You simply must,” she replied, so as not to scare me,
“But why?” I persisted.
She sighed. “Children should be seen, not heard.”
I asked several times more before she excused herself,
claiming a headache. As soon as she departed, I started in
on my governess, Lady Brooke.
“Why am I never to touch a spindle?”
Lady Brooke looked aggrieved. It was frowned upon,
she knew, to scold royal children. Father was a humane
ruler who never resorted to beheading. Still, she had her
job to consider, if not her neck.
“It is forbidden,” she said.
Well, I stomped my foot and whined and cried, and
when that failed to produce the desired result, I said, “If
you do not answer, I will tell Father you slapped me.”
“You wicked, wicked girl! God above will punish you
for such deceit!”
“No one punishes princesses.” My voice was calm. I was
done with my screaming, now that I had discovered a better currency. “Not even God.”
“God cares not for rank and privilege. If you tell such
an awful lie, you will surely be damned.”
“Then you must keep me from such a sin by telling me
what I wish to know.” Even at four or five, I was precocious
Finally, sighing, she told me.
I had been a long-wished-for babe (this I knew, for it
had been told to me almost as often as the spindle speech),
and when I was born, my parents invited much of the kingdom to my christening, including several women rumored
to have magical powers.
“You mean fairies?” I interrupted, knowing she would
not speak the word. Lady Brooke was highly religious,
which seemed to mean that she believed in witches, who
used their magic for evil, but not fairies, who used their
powers for good. Still, even at four, I knew about fairies.
“There is no such a thing as fairies,” Lady Brooke said.
“But yes, people said they were fairies. Your father welcomed them, for he hoped they would bring you magical
gifts. But there was one person your father did not invite:
the witch Malvolia.”
Lady Brooke went on to describe, at great length and
in exhausting detail, the beauty of the day, the height of
the sun in the sky, and the importance of the christening
service. I closed my eyes. But when she attempted to carry
me into my bedchamber, I woke and demanded, “What of
“Oh! I thought you were asleep.”
I continued to demand to know of the spindle, which
led to a lengthy recitation of the gifts I had received from
the various guests. I struggled to remain attentive, but I
perked up when she began to describe the fairies’ gifts.
“Violet gave the gift of beauty, and Xanthe gave the
gift of grace, although surely such qualities cannot be
I did not see why not. People often remarked upon my
beauty and grace.
“Leila gave the gift of musical talent . . .”
I noted, privately, that I was already quite skilled on the
“. . . while Celia gave the gift of intelligence. . . .”
It went without saying. . . .
Lady Brooke continued. “Flavia was about to step forward to give the gift of obedience—which would have been
much welcomed, if I do say so myself.” She winked at me,
but the wink had a hint of annoyance which was not—I
“The spindle?” I reminded her, yawning.
“Just as Flavia was ready to step forward and offer her
much-desired gift of obedience, the door to the grand banquet hall was flung open. The witch Malvolia! The guards
tried to stop her, but she brazened her way past them.
“‘I demand to see the child!’ she said.
“Your nurse tried to block her way. But quicker than
the bat of an eyelash, the nurse was on the floor and Malvolia was standing over your bassinet.
“‘Ah.’ She seized you and held you up for all to see. ‘The
“Your mother and father tried to soothe Malvolia with
tales of invitations lost, but she repeated the word ‘accursed,’
several times, and then she made good the curse itself.
“‘Before her sixteenth birthday, the princess shall prick
her finger on a spindle and die!’ she roared. And then, as
quickly as she had arrived, she was gone. But the beautiful
day was ruined, and rain fell freely from the sky.”
“And then what?” I asked, far from interested in the
weather now that I understood I might die by touching a
spindle. Why had no one told me?
“Flavia tried to save the situation with her gift. She said
that since Malvolia’s powers were immense, she could not
reverse her spell, but she sought to modify it a bit.
“‘The princess shall not die,’ she said. But as everyone
was sighing in relief, she added, ‘Rather, the princess shall
sleep. All Euphrasian citizens shall sleep also, protected from
harm by this spell, and the kingdom shall be obscured from
sight by a giant wood, unnoticed by the rest of the world
and removed from maps and memory until . . .’ People
were becoming more nervous with each pronouncement.
‘. . . one day, the kingdom shall be rediscovered. The princess shall be awakened by her true love’s first kiss, and the
kingdom shall awake and become visible to the world
“But that is stupid!” I burst out. “If the entire kingdom
is asleep and forgotten, who will be left to kiss me?”
Lady Brooke stopped speaking, and then she actually
scratched her head, as persons in stories are said to do when
they are trying to work some great puzzle. At the end of it,
she said, “I do not know. Someone will. That is what Flavia
But even at my tender age, I knew this was improbable. Euphrasia was small, bounded on three sides by ocean
and on the fourth by wilderness. The Belgians, our nearest
neighbors, barely knew we existed, and if Euphrasia disappeared from sight and maps, the Belgians would forget us
entirely. Other questions leaped to mind. How would we
eat if we were all asleep? And wouldn’t we eventually die,
like old people did? Indeed, the cure seemed worse than the
But to each successive question, Lady Brooke merely
said, “That is why you must never touch a spindle.”
And it is nigh upon my sixteenth birthday, and I have
never touched one yet.
omorrow is my sixteenth birthday. I do not suppose it
necessary to explain the furor this has occasioned in the
kingdom. ’Tis a heady occasion. Each year on my birthday,
guests come from around the world to celebrate—and they
bring gifts! Diamonds from Africa, crystal from Ireland,
cheese from Switzerland. Of course, my sixteenth birthday
is of special import. Rumor has it that a ship has sailed the
world over, collecting items and persons for my pleasure.
They say it has even visited the British colony on the other
side of the world. I believe it is called Virginia.
But more than guests, more even than presents, is the
actual hope that this whole spindle business will end today.
Before her sixteenth birthday. That was what the witch
Malvolia had said. So tomorrow Mother and Father will
rejoice at having completed the Herculean task of keeping
their stupid daughter away from a common household
object for sixteen years, and then I can live the ordinary life
of an ordinary princess.
I am ready for it.
It is not merely spindle avoidance that has been my
difficulty thus far. Rather, because of this, I have been
effectively shut out from the world. Other young maidens of my station have traveled to France, India, and even
the wilds of Virginia. But I have not been permitted to
make the shortest trip to the nearest kingdom, lest one of
the populace there wished to attack me with a spindle. In
the castle, the very tapestries seem to mock me with their
pictures of places I have never seen. I am barely allowed
outside, and when I am, it is only under the boring chaperonage of boring Lady Brooke or some other equally dull
lady-in-waiting. I am fifteen years old, and I have never
had a single friend. Who would want to be friends with an
oddity who has never seen anything or done anything and
is guarded night and day?
Likewise, a young princess my age would ordinarily
have dozens of suitors questing for her hand. Her beauty
would be the subject of song and story. Duels would be
fought for her. She might even cause a war, if she were
beautiful enough, and I am.
But though my beauty has been spoken of, raved of
even, there has not been one single request for my hand.
Father says it is because I am young yet, but I know that to
be a lie. The reason is the curse. Any sensible prince would
prefer a bride with freckles or a hooked nose over one like
me, one who might fall into a coma at any instant.
There is a knock upon the door. Lady Brooke! “Your
Highness, the gowns are ready for viewing,” she calls from
The gowns! They have been prepared especially for
tomorrow. It will be the grandest party ever. The guests
will arrive at the palace door in carriages or at the harbor in
ships. There will be a grand dinner tonight, and tomorrow
a ball with an orchestra for dancing and a second orchestra for when the first tires. There will be fireworks and a
midnight supper and magnums of a special bubbling wine
made by Benedictine monks in France, then a week of lesser
parties to follow. It will be a festival, a Festival of Talia. I
will be at the center of it, of course, courted by every prince
and raja, and before it is over, I will have fallen in love—
and I will be sixteen, cured of the curse.
“Your Highness?” Lady Brooke continues to knock.
The gowns—I need one for tonight and several for
the ball tomorrow and a dozen or so more for the coming week—must be perfect. And then, perhaps Father
will speak with the tailor who designed the loveliest one
and have him create fifty or so more for my wedding trip
around the globe.
Truth be told, it is the trip, rather than the wedding,
which appeals to me. I care not for marriage at someone else’s
whim. But it is my lot in life, and a cross I must bear to gain
the wedding trip. I am more than ready to leave Euphrasia,
having been trapped here for almost sixteen years. And, of
course, my husband shall be handsome, and a prince.
I fling the door open. “Well? Where are they?”
Lady Brooke produces a map of the castle.
I take it from her. One has to admire her organization. I
see now that Lady Brooke has marked out the rooms which
will be used to house our numerous royal guests. Other
rooms are marked with a star. “What is this?”
“On the occasion of your last birthday, you told your
father that, upon the occasion of this birthday, you required
‘the most perfect gown in all the world.’ Your father took
this request quite literally and sent out the call to tailors
and seamstresses the world over. China’s entire haul of silkworms has been put to this task. Children have been pulled
from their cottages and huts to spin and sew and slave, all
for the pleasure of Princess Talia of Euphrasia.”
“Very good, Lady Brooke.” I know she thinks I am silly
and spoiled. Was I not gifted with intelligence? I also know
this not to be the case. How can I be spoiled when I never
get to do a single thing I want? I did not ask that children
be pulled from their cribs to slave for me, but since they
were, is it not only courteous to gaze upon their efforts
and, hopefully, find a dress or two that will be acceptable?
I can already picture the gown in which I shall make my
grand entrance at the ball. It will be green. “The map?”
“Yes, the map. Each tailor was asked to bring his twenty
best creations, all in your exact measurements. Your father
believed that you might be overwhelmed, gazing upon so
many gowns at once. Therefore, he decreed that they be
placed in twenty-five separate rooms of the castle. In this
way, you may wander about, choosing as you will.”
Twenty gowns times twenty-five tailors! Five hundred
gowns! I grow giddy.
“We had best get started,” I tell Lady Brooke.
We begin to walk down the stone hallway. The first
rooms are on the floor above us, and as we climb the stairs,
Lady Brooke says, “May I ask what you will do with the
gowns which do not meet with your approval?”
This is a trick question, I know, like all of Lady Brooke’s
questions, designed to prove that I am a horrid brat. Why
care I what Lady Brooke thinks? But I do, for much as
I loathe her, she is my only companion, the closest thing
I have to a friend. So I rack my brain for an acceptable
answer. Give them to her? Surely not. The gowns were
made to my exact measurements, and Lady Brooke, who
has not been blessed with the gift of beauty, is an ungainly
half a head taller than I, and stout.
“Give them to the poor?” I say. When she frowns, I
think again. “Or, better yet, hold an auction and give the
money collected to the poor. For food.”
There! That should satisfy the old bat!
And perhaps it does. At least, she is quiet as we enter the
first room. Quiet disapproval is the best I can expect from
Dresses line the walls, covering even the windows.
Twenty of them, in different fabrics, different shapes, but
every single one of them blue!
“Was it not communicated to the tailors that my eyes
are green?” I ask Lady Brooke in a whisper loud enough for
the tailor to hear. I want him to. Of all the stupidity!
He hears. “You want-a green dresses?” He has an accent
of some sort, and when he moves closer, I see beads of sweat
forming upon his forehead. Ew. I certainly hope that he has
refrained from sweating over his work, which would make
the fabric smell.
“Not all green,” I say. “But I would not have expected
“Blue, it is the fashion this year,” the sweaty tailor says.
“I am a princess. I do not follow fashions—I make
“I am certain one blue dress would be acceptable.” Lady
Brooke tries to smooth things over with this peasant whilst
glaring at me. “Talia, this man has come all the way from
Italy. His designs are the finest in the world.”
“What?” I say, meaning, what does this have to do
“I said . . . oh, never mind. Will you not look at the
dresses now? Please?”
I look. The dresses are all ugly. Or maybe not ugly but
boring, with boring ruffles. Boring, like everything else in
my life. Still, I manage to smile so as not to call out another
lecture from Lady Brooke. “Lovely, thank you.”
“You like?” He steps in my way.
Would not I have said if I liked? But I tell him, “I will
think upon it. This is the first room I have visited.”
This seems to satisfy him. At least, he gets his sweatiness
out of my way, and I am allowed to pass to the next room.
This room and indeed the two after it are little better. I
find one dress, a pink one, which might be acceptable for
a lesser event like Friday’s picnic, some event at which I
would not mind looking like the dessert, but nothing at all
to wear on the Most Important Night of My Life.
“Talia?” Lady Brooke says after the third room. “Perhaps if you gave more than a cursory glance—”
“Perhaps if they were not all so hideous!” I am devastated and hurt, and Lady Brooke does not understand. How
could she? When she was young, she could go to shops and
choose her own clothing, even make it if she liked. I will
never be normal, but barring that, I would like to be abnormal in a lovely green dress without too many frills.
“Here is a green one,” Lady Brooke says in the next
I glower at it. The ruffles would reach my nose. “This
would suit . . . my grandmother.”
“Could the ruffles be removed?” Lady Brooke asks the
“Could you create a gown that is not entirely hideous?”
“Talia . . .”
“It is naught but the truth.”
“Pardonez moi,” the tailor says. “The frock, I can fix
“Non, merci,” I say, and flounce from the room.
In the next, I spy a lavender velvet with a heart-shaped
neckline. I reach to touch the soft fabric.
“Beautiful, is it not?” Lady Brooke asks.
I pull my hand back. I am thoroughly sick of Lady
Brooke and dresses and my life. I am certain she despises
me as well and, suddenly, the company of even Malvolia
herself seems preferable to that of the detestable Lady
“Do you have anything better?”
“Talia, you are being terrible.”
“I am being truthful, and I would thank you to remember that you are in my father’s service.”
“I know it. Would that it were not the case, for I am
ashamed to be in your presence when you are behaving like
a horrible brat.”
She says it with a smile. The tailor, too, smiles stupidly.
I stare at him. “Are there any gowns which are less likely to
make me want to vomit than this one?”
The man continues to smile and nod.
“He speaks no English,” I say. “So what care you what
I say to him?”
“I care because I am forced to listen to you. You have
grown more and more insolent in recent weeks. I am
ashamed of you.” She nods and smiles.
I feel something like tears springing to my eyes. Lady
Brooke hates me, even though she is required to like me.
Probably everyone else hates me, too, and merely pretends
because of Father. But I hold the tears back. Princesses do
“Then why not leave me alone?” I ask, smiling as I was
trained. “Why does no one ever leave me be for one single,
“Were your orders to yell at me and call me a brat?” I
begin to pace back and forth like a caged animal. I am a
caged animal. “Tomorrow I shall be sixteen. Peasant girls
my age are married with two and three babes, and yet I
am not permitted to walk down a hallway within my own
castle without supervision.”
“You do not even believe in the curse! And yet it has
come true, not the spindle part, but the death. . . . I am
living my death, little by little, each day. And when I am
sixteen and the curse ends, I shall be given over to a husband
of someone else’s choosing, who will tell me what to do and
say and eat and wear for the rest of my life. I can only pray
that it will be short, pray for the blessed independence of
the grave. I will always be under someone’s orders.” I begin
to cry, anyway, to sob. What difference does it make? “Can
I not simply walk down a hallway on my own?”
Through it all, the tailor smiles and nods.
Lady Brooke’s expression softens. “I suppose it would
be all right. After all, the tailors have been thoroughly
searched and the spindle regulations explained to them.”
“Of course they have.” I sigh.
Lady Brooke turns to the man and speaks to him in
“Thank you!” I sob. I point to the lavender gown and
say, in French, “It is beautiful! I shall take that one, and
that one as well.” I point to a charming scarlet satin with
a neckline off the shoulders in the style of Queen Mary of
England, a gown I had purposely ignored before, which
now looks quite fetching.
“Very well.” Lady Brooke hands me the map. “Just
point to what you want, and they will put it aside.”
I nod and take the paper from her. I am free—at least
for an hour!
ree of the encumbrance that is Lady Brooke, I fairly
skip down the stone hallways. I would swing from the
chandeliers, could I reach them, but I content myself with
jumping up toward them. My life is no less horrible than
before, but at least there is no dour Lady Brooke to remark
upon its horribleness.
In short time, I have chosen five dresses, none blue, but
none special enough for my grand entrance at my birthday
ball. Although one is green, it does not match the exact
shade of my eyes.
“It will look lovely on you,” says the tailor, who is from
Of course he thinks so. I know what he is about. Having his dress worn by a princess on an occasion of such
import will increase his renown. For the rest of his life, he
might call himself “Tailor to Talia, Princess of Euphrasia.”
But his apprentice says, “Indeed. It may not be the same
shade as your remarkable eyes, but it will bring them out.”
The tailor quickly shushes him, lest the boy disgrace
them both by speaking so to a princess. But I turn toward
him and smile. He is my age, no more, perhaps the tailor’s
son. And—I find it difficult not to notice—he is handsome.
For a commoner. His eyes are the color of cornflowers.
“Do you think so?”
He looks down, blushing. “I meant no disrespect, Your
Highness. But yes. It will look lovely on you, as any dress
I wonder what it would be like to be a common girl,
who could flirt with such a handsome tailor’s apprentice
with impunity. Or, better yet, to be the apprentice himself,
to be a boy, so young, yet traveling far from home. And to
learn a trade such as making a dress. In all my life, I have
never created anything, never done anything at all other
than silly paintings of flowers for my art master, Signor
Maratti. Father hung them in his bedchamber, where they
would be seen by no one. Is it enough to be a princess,
when being a princess means nothing?
I nod and turn reluctantly to the old tailor. “I shall wear
it tonight for dinner. Many noblewomen will be in attendance, and if they compliment my gown, I will tell them
I start for the door. The tailor bows, but the boy does
not move. He is staring at me, entranced by my beauty. I
get the shiveriest sensation across my arms. Of course he
thinks I am beautiful, but I like that he sees me. I wonder
if this is what it will be like when I meet my prince. Maybe
it will not be so bad.
Five more rooms, then ten, and still the dress I desire
has not been found. It seems a small task, certainly one the
best tailors in the world should be able to accomplish. And
yet they have not. I sigh. Perhaps I will wear the English
tailor’s dress to the ball after all.
I reach the end of the hallway. I have never been in this
part of the castle before. Amazing. These rooms have barely
been used, but surely a child—a normal child—would
explore every room at some time. But I had not been a
I spy a staircase in the shadows. This is not one of the
stairways I am accustomed to using to reach the fourth
floor, and when I check Lady Brooke’s map, I see that it
was not included. How odd. I am seized with a sudden
urge to run up its steps, even slide down the banister. But
that is silly, and if I do that, I will be delayed. And then
Lady Brooke will come looking for me. I turn back down
Suddenly, I hear a voice.
It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho,
And a hey nonny no . . .
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time . . .
A woman’s voice, singing. Entranced, almost, I start up the
When birds do sing,
Hey ding a ding, ding!
Sweet lovers love the spring!
At the top of the stairs, there is an open door. I stop.
There is no tailor. I knew there would not be. But instead,
there is an old woman sitting upon a bench. I see not
what she is doing, for she is surrounded by dresses, so
many dresses, much more than twenty. But that is not the
Each and every dress is exactly the same shade of green
as my eyes.
“Lovely!” The cry comes from me unbidden. I run into
“Good afternoon, Your Highness.” The old woman
attempts to rise from her chair with great effort. She begins
“Oh, please don’t!” I say. She is, after all, very old.
“Ah, but I must. You are a princess, and respect must
be accorded certain positions. Those who do not take heed
will pay the price.”
She is almost to the floor, and I wonder how long it will
take her to right herself. Still, I say, “Very well.” I wish for
a second—but only a second—that Lady Brooke were here
so that she might see how I follow her directions about not
arguing with my elders.
I step back and study the dresses. It seems there is every
style and every fabric: satins, velvets, brocades of all designs,
and a lighter fabric I have never seen before, which will
float behind me like a cloud of butterflies.
Finally, the woman rises. “Do you like anything?”
I had nearly forgotten she was there, so enchanted was
I with the gowns.
I sigh. “Yes, I like everything! It is all perfect.”
She laughs. “I am honored that you believe so. For you
see, I am from Euphrasia. I have seen you all your life,
Your Highness, and have flattered myself that I knew better than any foreigner the designs that would suit my own
“Indeed.” I try to recall if I have seen her before, perhaps
in the crowds at a parade. But why would I have noticed an
old woman who looks much like any other? Only her eyes
are unusual. They are not glazed over with a film of white,
like so many very old people’s are. Instead, they are lively,
black and glittering like a crow’s.
“Have you a special favorite?” she asks.
“This one.” I start toward the lightweight dress. “I shall
rival the fairies in this!”
“’Tis my favorite, too. Do you mind, Your Highness, if
I sit back down? I know it is not the correct way, but I am
quite old, and my knees are not what they once were when
I was a young woman like yourself, dancing at festivals.”
“Of course.” I am flooded with gratitude toward this
stranger who knows what I want, who understands me as
Mother and Father and wretched Lady Brooke do not. I
approach the dress. The old woman has settled back onto
her stool and has begun some sort of needlework. There is
a contraption in her hand, something that looks like a top
with which children play. It is nearly covered in wool that
has been dyed a deep rose.
“What is that?” I ask her.
“Oh, ’tis my sewing. I make my own thread. Do you
wish to try?”
Sewing? I step closer. The contraption is a wooden spike
weighted at one end with a whorl of darker wood. A hook
holds the thread in place, and when the thread is finished,
it winds around the stick below the whorl, to be used for
sewing. There is a quantity of unfinished wool at the top.
“Oh, I should not.”
“Of course not. I misspoke. ’Twould be unfitting for a
young lady such as yourself to make dresses. You were born
merely to wear them. Humble souls like myself were meant
I nod, approaching the dresses again.
“Only . . .”
“What is it?” I am touching the fabric, but I glance back
“They say ’tis lucky. ’Twas handed down to me by my
mother and her mother before her, and all who make thread
with it are entitled to one wish.”
“A wish?” I know what Lady Brooke would say on the
subject. Her thoughts on wishes are much like her thoughts
on magic. Superstition is the opposite of God. Still, I say,
“Have you ever wished upon it?”
“Aye.” She nods. “I have indeed, when I was young. I
wished for a long life.”
I stare at her. Her face is like crumpled silk, and her hair
the color of paper.
“How long ago was that?”
“When I was your age, fifteen. So nigh upon two hundred years.”
I gasp, but the old woman holds my gaze.
“What would you wish for, Your Highness? I know you
must have wishes, trapped as you are in this castle, longing
to marry if only to get out, not daring to hope for freedom.” Her voice is very nearly hypnotic. “Be not afraid.
What do you wish for?”
My freedom. Or love. Or . . . travel. I wish to travel the
world, to be not a princess trapped in a protected existence,
but a human girl. Silly thought. I cannot do that.
“I think . . .” I say, “I will try it.”
She nods and moves aside to make room for me on
the bench. Her movement is less labored than before.
She pats the space beside her. “Sit, Princess.” She hands
me the object, stick first. “This in your right hand. Then
take the thread in your left, and spin it clockwise. When
the thread has begun to spin, you make your wish.”
I take the stick. I am distracted, thinking of my wish,
my freedom, of seeing the world. As I reach for the thread,
I feel a stab of pain in my finger. The hook at the end has
punctured my left ring finger. When I glance down, I see a
drop of crimson upon my skirt. Blood.
It is only then that I realize what the object is.
A spindle. The princess shall prick her finger on a
I hear the old woman’s laughter as I begin to sink
My last thought as I hit the ground is, I should have
listened to Lady Brooke.
hat they don’t tell you about Europe is how completely lame it is.
I should have guessed, though. It was my parents’ idea.
They’re not exactly renowned for their coolness. They sent
me on this tour of Europe, supposedly for my education
but really to get me out of their hair for a month, while
simultaneously being able to brag to their friends that “Jack
is on tour in Europe, getting something interesting to write
about on college essays.”
Painful admission here: I didn’t totally mind because
my girlfriend, Amber, dumped me like last year’s cat litter
when some college guy asked her out. At least being here
keeps me from seeing her with the new guy, and also forces
me to appear like I have some pride and not call her. And
who knows? Maybe I’ll meet someone.
I was picturing clubs with Eurotrash nobility, riding
on Vespas, lounging in French cafés and Greek tavernas,
and, of course, the occasional topless beach (although it is
a well-known fact that European women aren’t big on shaving their, um, pitular area—I planned to look elsewhere).
I thought at least there’d be some cool gardens, something
outdoors. I never imagined the suckitude I was about to
experience—one big bus tour to every museum that offers
a group rate. In Miami, where I’m from, we have maybe
five museums, if you count the zoo. Here in Europe, every
podunk town has ten or twenty. The bus pulls up in front
of a museum and lets us out. Our tour guide, Mindy, has
this little blue-and-white flag with a picture of a bird on it,
which makes walking behind her the ultimate in humiliation. She walks backward to whichever great work of art
the museum’s famous for. The assembled peasants gawk for
a full two minutes. Then it’s off to the gift shop to spend
our Euros on stuff we wouldn’t pay two cents for if it was
in the Walgreens back home.
It’s not doing a thing to get my mind off Amber.
At least my friend Travis is here. Guess his parents
wanted to get rid of him, too. I don’t even know what country we’re in now. One of those lame ones you don’t learn
much about in geography, like Belgium, or maybe one of
the “L” ones. I don’t pay much attention to Mindy, but
yesterday I heard her say the magic word: coast. We’re near
the beach. That’s when I started formulating my plan.
I shake Travis awake.
“What the . . . what time is it?”
“Five thirty, man.”
“In the morning?”
“No, at night. It’s almost time for dinner.”
That gets him up. But when he sees how dark it is, he
slumps back on the bed.
“It’s still dark.”
Can’t put anything over on Travis, at least not where
food or sleep are concerned.
“Okay, I lied. But I need to get out of this Tour of the
Damned and have some fun. That’s not going to happen
unless we can beat the seven o’clock meet-up time.”
“Know what would be fun?”
“What, Trav?” I’m hoping maybe he has some ideas,
since I know his parents roped him into this tour, same as
“It’s not like they’re going to let you sleep in, anyway.
Soon they’ll be banging on the door, telling us to get ready.
This way, you can sleep when we hit the beach.”
Back home in Miami, Travis is a serious sun god. Now
he’s the color of marshmallows.
“Sure, the beach. Think of it, Travis. Topless French
“We’re not in France.”
“Okay, topless German chicks. Does it make a
“Will there be food?”
“Sure. There’s a café across the street. We’ll get breakfast and some sandwiches, but first we have to get out of
Finally, I manage to get him out of bed. I’d actually
sort of wanted to go look at this National Botanic Garden
of Belgium (Belgium! That’s where we are!) we passed yesterday on the way to Museum Number Three. I could see
this huge giant sequoia from the road. Of course, we didn’t
have time to look at it. But I knew that Travis was way
more likely to go along with me to the beach. At least it’s
not another dusty art museum, and maybe we can hit the
garden on the way back.
I drag Travis to the concierge desk to ask for
“You couldn’t have done that while I was getting ready?”
“You’d have gone back to sleep.”
“You know, sometimes it’s like you work at being a
“I prefer to spend my summer not working at
We have to stand there for a while, while the concierge
guy makes time with the desk clerk. If he doesn’t get over
here soon, Mindy might catch us.
“Hey, little help here . . .” I look at his nameplate.
He ignores us.
“Hey! Don’t want to take time from your busy
When he finally figures out that we’re not leaving, he
“Which way to the beach, Jacks?” I ask.
“It is Jacques.” He gives me that special glare hotel
concierges always give you when they figure out you’re
American or that you don’t speak the language, like he ate
a bad niçoise salad. Like I’m supposed to speak every language in Europe. I took Spanish in school. Of course, we
haven’t been to Spain yet. At least, I don’t think we have.
“The beach?” I repeat. “La playa?”
“Le plage,” Travis tries.
“Ah, oui. La plage.” We’ve pushed a magic button, and
suddenly the concierge is our best friend and now speaks
perfect English. “The autobus leaves at nine thirty.”
“We can’t wait until nine thirty, Jacks.”
Jacques shrugs. “That is when it goes.”
If we have to wait until nine thirty, we’re going to get
caught, and I’m going to get stuck in another museum. My
girlfriend dumped me, my summer vacation is ruined, and
this guy can’t even help me have one decent day? Isn’t it,
like, his job to be helpful? “Is there another bus, maybe? Is
this, like, the completely lamest country in Europe?”
Travis nudges me. “Jack, you’re gonna get him mad.”
“Who cares? He doesn’t understand me, anyway. Everyone in this country is—”
“Ah, you are correct, monsieur,” Jacques interrupts,
“and I am wrong. I have just remembered there is another
autobus, a different route. A different beach.”
I give Trav a look like, see?
“Would you write it down for us?” Travis asks. “Please?”
“But of course.”
The concierge hands us a bus schedule with the routes
and times circled. “You want to get off here and then walk
to the east.” He sketches a map. It looks pretty complicated, but at least the bus leaves in twenty minutes.
“Thanks,” Travis says. “Listen, is there a place to get
My cell phone rings. I check the caller ID: Mindy, looking for us. I grab Travis’s arm. “We’ve got to go.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“Later.” I drag him away.
“Thanks,” he yells to Jacques. “See you later.”
Jacques waves, and he’s actually smiling. He says something that sounds like “I doubt it” but is probably just some
weird French phrase. I pull Travis out the door just as I spot
Mindy stepping out of the elevator.
Luckily, she’s already walking backward and doesn’t
ood thing we got food first,” Travis says on the bus.
“Yeah, you mentioned that.”
Actually, Travis has mentioned that seven times, once
every ten minutes that we’ve been on this bus ride.
“But it is a good thing. Otherwise, we’d be starving.
In fact, I’m thinking about breaking out one of the sandwiches now.”
Travis brought enough sandwiches and beer (the legal
drinking age here is sixteen!) for a family of four for a week.
He also ate a four-egg omelet, a stack of pancakes, and ten
strips of bacon (the waitress called it the “American breakfast”). Plus, since he got it to go, he actually just finished
eating about twenty minutes ago.
“Forget food for a minute. Doesn’t this bus ride seem a
little long to you? I mean, this is a small country. I brought
my passport, but I wasn’t planning on using it.”
“It’s long,” Travis agrees, eyeing the bag with the
I pick it up and hold it shut so he has to listen to me.
“And isn’t it going—I don’t know—sort of in the
opposite direction of the way you’d think the beach would
“The guy said it was a different beach, but maybe he
“I think that guy messed us up on purpose.”
“You did say his country was lame.”
“It is lame. So you think we’re going the wrong way,
“Maybe.” Trav’s looking at the bag with the sandwiches.
“It’s hard to think straight when you’re hungry.”
I’m about to give him a sandwich just so I can think
when the bus driver announces that we’ve reached Jacques’s
“Finally. Time to get off.”
“Does that mean I can’t have a sandwich?”
“Think how good it will taste when we’re sitting on the
Twenty minutes later, not only have we not found the
beach, we haven’t even found the first street Jacques wrote
on his map.
“It says go three blocks, then turn on St. Germain,”
Travis says. “But it’s been more than three blocks. It’s been,
like, six. Maybe we should turn back.”
I’m about to agree when I see a street called St. Germain.
“This must be it.”
But the next street isn’t where it’s supposed to be, either,
even when we’ve walked three times as far as the map says.
“Maybe you’re right,” I say.
When we turn back, nothing looks the way it did the
first time. The first time, there were houses and stores and
bicycles. Now there’s nothing but trees and, well . . . nature
everywhere I look. “What happened?” I say.
“To what?” Travis is munching on a sandwich.
“To everything—the town, the people?”
Travis wipes his mouth on his sleeve. “I didn’t notice.”
I see a little dirt road I hadn’t seen before. I turn down
it, gesturing to Travis to follow me. “Come on.”
But this isn’t where we were before, either. It’s like everything just disappeared into a fog. Travis isn’t noticing, since
he’s in a fog of his own, created by the sandwich. But then
we run into something he can’t ignore.
It’s a solid wall of brambles.
“Now what?” I say.
“Back where? We’re lost. This isn’t where we were before.
Besides, look.” I gesture around me. “All this natural stuff.
Back in Miami, if you had all this nature around, you’d
definitely be near the beach.”
In fact, the hedge looks a lot like bramble bushes in
Miami. It has fuchsia flowers a little like the bougainvillea
that grows there. The weird thing is that it must be three
or four stories high.
“So where’s the beach?” Travis asks.
I shrug. “Not back there.”
“But this road’s a dead end.”
“I know. But listen.” I cup my hand to my ear. “What
do you hear?”
“Chewing,” Travis says.
“Well, stop chewing.”
Travis finishes the last bite. “Okay.”
“Now, what do you hear?”
Travis listens real carefully. “I don’t hear anything.”
“Exactly. Which means there must be nothing on the
other side of that hedge—no city, no cars, just nothing.
“So you’re saying you want to go through the hedge?”
“What have we got to lose?”
“How about blood? Those bushes look prickly.”
It’s true. But I say, “Don’t be a wuss.”
“Can I have another sandwich at least?”
I grab the bag from him. “After the hedge.”
Fifteen minutes later, there’s nothing on any side of us
“I bet I look like the victim in a slasher movie,” Travis
says. “What’s the French word for ‘chain saw’?”
“It’s not that bad. The flowers sort of smell nice.” I
“Right. You stay and smell the flowers. I’m going
I grab his wrist. “Please, Trav. I want to go to the beach.
I can’t handle another day of the tour.”
He pulls away. “What’s the big deal? My parents are
going to ask me what I did today.”
“That’s the thing. My parents won’t. They won’t ask me
what I did the past week. They don’t care what I’m doing.
And I hate going to all those stupid museums. Looking at
all that boring art makes my mind wander, and when my
mind wanders, all I can think of is Amber kissing that frat
Travis stops pulling. “Wow. That really hit you hard,
“Yeah.” I thought I was just making stuff up to get Trav
to do what I want, but I have this sort of sick feeling in my
stomach. I’m telling the truth. My parents haven’t called
in two weeks, except once to ask me if I signed up for AP
Government next year for school, and this trip is doing
nothing to make me forget about Amber. I see her face
in every painting in every museum—especially that Degas
guy, who painted girls with no faces at all. I can’t get away
from her. “Yeah. I just want to go to the beach for one day.
I need to be outside.”
“Okay, buddy. Only you go in front.”
So I go up front, taking the full scratchy brunt of the
brambles for another twenty minutes—twenty minutes
during which I don’t think about my parents or Amber but
only about the fact that if I lose too much blood, there’ll be
no one here to help. When we finally reach the other side,
“Wow,” I say.
“What is it?” Travis is still behind me.
“Definitely not the beach.”
hen I was a kid, back when my family was still pretending to like one another, we took a trip to Colonial
Williamsburg. It’s this place where everything’s like Colonial times—horses and buggies on unpaved streets. There’s
stuff like blacksmith shops, too. My sister, Meryl, and I had
fun with the employees because if you ask them stuff like
which way to Starbucks, they act like they don’t know what
you’re talking about. But it got weird after a while. You
wondered if they seriously didn’t know it was the twentyfirst century. I was ready to go home at the end of the day.
The place on the other side of the hedge is sort of like
that. I mean, not just old. Pretty much everything in Europe
is old and falling apart and important, but this place takes
historic preservation to a whole new level.
“Do you think it’s, like, a theme park?” I say to Travis.
“No one here.”
“Maybe it’s just not open yet. Or closed. Is today
The streets are unpaved, and even if they were, they’re
barely wide enough to get one of those little European
cars down. But the transportation here is horses, judging from how many are tied to hitching posts, sleeping.
There’s not a McDonald’s or a Gap anywhere, only one
building with ALEHOUSE painted on it in peeling, oldfashioned lettering. And the plants look bad. Some are
overgrown, but a lot of stuff is bare, like the grass died
“Definitely not the beach.” Travis starts pushing through
The brambles have settled into the same shape they
were before we went through them. I do not want to go
through those bushes again.
Travis must think the same thing because he steps back.
“Maybe we should eat lunch first.”
Something about this place is really weirding me out.
“Let’s wait for a while. Who knows how long it will take to
get back to civilization . . . and sandwiches.”
Travis thinks about it and gets this worried look on his
face. “Okay. Then we should get out of here.” He starts
pushing through the brambles again.
“Wait! Maybe we should start looking for a different
way out or at least see if anyone around here has a chain
“You see any people here?”
“There’s horses. And they’re tied up. That means there
are people somewhere.” The weird thing is, I sort of want
to look around a little bit. This place is cooler than anything else we’ve seen on this trip. At least it’s outside, and
Mindy’s not here telling us what to think. “We should look
Travis glances around. “If there’s people here, they’re
really not into mowing and weeding. But if you say so. . . .”
He shrugs but follows me. We walk down the street,
which is really more of a pathway with weeds and stuff
growing on both sides. I point to the alehouse. “Let’s try
He nods. “It doesn’t look like the type of place where
The alehouse has steps in front of it. When I put my
foot on one, it squeaks and moves under me. I step on a
better, less rotted part, but even so, it quivers and shakes.
“This is really weird, Jack. You think maybe the whole
town died or something, and there’s nothing but a bunch
of dead bodies?”
I remember when we went to Colonial Williamsburg,
they told us about all the diseases people got in those days,
like yellow fever, black plague, and scarlet fever. Meryl
and I joked that all the diseases back then sounded really
colorful. But now it’s kind of freaky thinking about some
sickness taking out the whole town. Maybe Travis is right,
not necessarily that everyone died, but maybe a lot did and
the rest decided to get out of Dodge.
But I say, “That’s stupid. There’s no abandoned town
in Europe. If there were, someone would turn it into a
museum. They’d widen the streets and bring people here
by the busload and torture kids on tours.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I am.”
And to prove how right I am, I walk to the door.
But I still can’t bring myself to go in, so I look through
the window. It’s easy because there’s no glass in it, and I
remember that a lot of places didn’t have glass windows in
the old days, only shutters to pull down at night or if it got
cold. I can’t see much. There’s no light inside and nothing
moving. We stand there so long that I’m almost expecting
someone—possibly a ghost—to come up behind us and
ask what we’re doing here. So when Travis says, “Come
on!” I jump about three feet.
He laughs. “Not afraid of dead bodies, huh?”
“Nope.” I push open the door.
The room is dark. There are lanterns, but none are
lit. It takes my eyes a minute to get used to it. Even so, I
see there are people there, sitting on barstools, but they’re
really quiet. No music, no laughter, no talking, and when
my pupils finally dilate, I realize the people aren’t moving
at all, like they’re dead.
But they can’t be dead. If they died long ago in some
plague or massacre, their horses wouldn’t still be tied
outside, and they’d be reduced to skeletons.
Unless they got mummified. I saw this movie once
where this guy killed someone. He mummified her body
and sat her in an upstairs window. You couldn’t tell the difference unless you saw her face.
I take a deep breath and let it out real slow, prepping
myself to walk around and look at their faces. That’s when
One of them snores.
“What was that?” Travis says. He’s hugging the door.
“It sounded like a snore.”
“A snore? Like they’re sleeping? All of them?”
“I think so.” I walk over to the side of one guy. He
snores, and I see his stomach moving in and out. He’s alive.
He’s definitely alive. I’m saved! I don’t have to touch a
I tap his shoulder. “Hey, bud.”
He doesn’t answer. I shake him harder and yell louder.
“Hey! Dude! Hey, you!”
Now that it’s that obvious they’re not zombies or anything, Travis steps forward and starts shaking a different
guy. “We’re sorry to bother you, but we’re looking for
There are five guys on stools and the bartender asleep
on the floor. Trav and I spend five minutes shaking, yelling, pulling, and practically dancing with them. They’re
definitely alive, but they’re totally asleep.
“I think we need to try another place,” I tell Trav.
There’s only one person at the next shop, an old lady
asleep with a bunch of falling-apart hats on stands. We
shake her, but she doesn’t wake.
We try three more places, and they’re all the same.
“Freaky,” Travis says when we step out of the greengrocer’s. There was nothing in the bins, not a single grape or
carrot. The grocer was napping on the floor. “Can we leave
now? A grocer without groceries is just . . . wrong.”
I sigh. “I guess so.”
But when I turn the corner, I stop.
t’s a castle. Not a modern-looking one like Buckingham
Palace, with electricity and toilets (when we visited it, the
plumber was there—his truck said THE DIPLOMAT OF DRAIN
AND SEWER CLEANING—and Trav and I had fun joking about
what the queen had done to stop up the drains), but a real
castle, the kind that comes in a set with a bunch of plastic
knights and horses. It could even have a dungeon.
“Check it out.” I start toward it.
“Hey, wrong way. I want to go back.”
“Suit yourself.” I walk faster. “But I have the
“Hey!” Travis starts running after me, but he’s got on
flip-flops. I have sneakers, and I was on the track team at
school, so I can outrun him.
The castle is farther than I thought because it’s bigger
than I thought. It’s big enough to put a whole city in. I finally
reach it about ten minutes later. There’s a moat around it full
of brown, sludgy water.
“Oops. Can’t go in,” Trav yells from way back.
I walk around the perimeter until I see where the drawbridge is. It’s open, and there’s a castle door at the end of
it. I start across.
“Are you sure you should do that? Someone might
“Come on, Travis. What are we going to do, go crawling back to Mindy? This is the first interesting thing we’ve
seen in the past three weeks. I just want to look around.”
At the door, I see two guards. Surprise—they’re sleeping. I grasp the handle and pull on it. It opens with a loud
squeal. I step inside.
We’re in this huge room with three-story ceilings.
“Wow, it’s like the ballroom in Shrek 2,” Travis says.
I nod and hand him a sandwich. It lightens the load,
and we’ve still got six or seven more. To be safe, I hold on
to the beer.
“Hey, look.” I point at a suit of armor standing in a
corner. “Let’s try it on.”
“There could be someone in it.”
I jump back. I hadn’t thought about that. I don’t think
the sleeping people around here look like they date back to
medieval times, but better safe than sorry. I slowly, gingerly
lift the bill of the knight’s face mask.
I breathe out. “Maybe this place won’t be as freaky as
This is so cool. All the castles and towers we’ve been to,
you’re either not allowed to look around inside at all, or if
you are, you just get to stand behind velvet ropes and see
stuff in climate-controlled boxes. This place is real, even if
it is a little dusty. I start down a hallway that goes out to the
side. I look in the first room. “Hey.”
“What is it? The kitchen?”
It’s an actual throne room like in the movies, and there
are people in it, peasants maybe, waiting to see the king or
something. The king isn’t there, though.
“They’re asleep like everyone else in this town,” Travis
Two guards sleep off to one side. Each has a pillow in his
lap. On each pillow is a crown encrusted with diamonds,
emeralds, and rubies. It’s just like the stuff we saw in the
Tower of London, only it’s out where we can touch it.
“I’m trying one on,” I say.
“Are you sure you should? What if they wake up?”
“We’ve practically stomped on these people, and they
haven’t woken up.”
Still, when I take the crown off its velvet pillow, I almost
expect an alarm to go off or something. None does, and I
place the crown on my head. “How do I look?”
Travis laughs. “Kind of stupid.”
“You’re just jealous. Try the other.”
“It’s a girl’s crown.” Still, he puts it on. We fool around,
sitting on the thrones and patting the peasants on the heads.
After a while, Travis says, “We should take them.”
I shake my head. I don’t like the idea of stealing anything. “Let’s look around first and see what else there is.”
We put the crowns back and go into more rooms. On
the third floor, there’s a bunch of rooms with nothing in
them but dresses.
“Wouldn’t you think this stuff would get eaten by rats
and bugs?” Travis says.
“You see any rats and bugs? Maybe they’re sleeping,
When we reach maybe the tenth room of dresses, Travis
says, “This is boring. Let’s try on the armor.”
I’m about to say okay when I notice this weird little
staircase going off to the side. I saw a turret when we were
outside. I wonder if this goes up to it.
“Let’s go there first,” I say.
Before Travis can protest, I start upstairs. I didn’t think
the staircase was very tall, but it curves around and goes
higher. Then it curves again and again.
When we finally reach the top, the door is closed. I
open it and find a room with nothing but a girl, sleeping
on the floor.
She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.
stare at her. I’ve never seen a human being who looks
like her, and I’m from Miami, where good-looking
people go to spawn. But this girl isn’t just beautiful. She’s
perfect in a way that’s unreal, like one of Meryl’s Barbie
What I’m saying is, this girl is . . .
“Wow, she’s hot,” Travis says when he finally reaches
Yeah. That. She’s lying on the floor with these golden
curls all around her, like someone arranged them that way.
Her body, I can tell even in her long dress, is totally perfect.
She’s taller than almost everyone else here, and thin in all
the right places with these great . . .
“Would you look at her?” Travis interrupts my thoughts
I am. I stare at the top of her dress, which she’s really
filling out, let me tell you. I feel this incredible urge to
touch her, but I know it’s wrong because she’s asleep.
But the weird thing is, it’s not her body I notice the
most. It’s her face.
Her skin is the color of milk with just the tiniest bit of
strawberry Nesquik mixed in. Her eyes are closed, but I can
tell they’re huge, with long eyelashes that curve upward.
And her mouth. It’s full and red, and her lips definitely
don’t look like lips that haven’t been moistened in hundreds of years.
For some reason, looking at her makes me think of
Amber. Not that she looks like Amber, because she doesn’t.
Amber’s beautiful in a normal, human way. But, compared
to this girl, Amber’s total chopped liver.
And somehow, just looking at her, I know she isn’t
like Amber. She wouldn’t dump someone for a guy with a
“What are you, in love with her?” Travis says. “You’re
staring like an idiot.”
The weird thing is, I think I am.
“She’s asleep. You could . . .” Travis looks at the door.
“. . . do anything.”
“You know you were thinking about it.”
“No, I wasn’t. That would be wrong.”
“Right and wrong’s getting kind of fuzzy for me. Was it
wrong to ditch the tour? Was it wrong to lie to Mindy? Was
it wrong to sneak in here?”
“I guess.” I keep looking at the girl. I can’t stop looking
“Come on. I dare you to touch her.”
“Okay.” I want to anyway. I lean toward her, wishing
she’d wake up.
I reach down and touch one of her curls.
Soft. So soft. I comb my fingers through it to make it
last. She stirs in her sleep, and I imagine she’s enjoying my
touch, but of course, that’s impossible.
“Not her hair, dorko. She can’t even feel her hair.”
“She can’t feel anything. She’s asleep like the rest of
“So why not touch an important part?”
It’s not because Travis says to. It’s because I want to. I
move my hand back up the length of her hair to her face.
It feels like—God, this is hokey—flower petals. Roses,
maybe. I move my finger across her cheek, to her mouth,
her lips. They’re parted slightly, and suddenly, I can’t keep
from admitting it: I want to kiss her. Crazy, because ten
minutes ago I was still completely thinking about Amber,
but I really want to kiss this comatose chick. I lean closer.
“Not her cheek, idiot!” Travis leans down. “God, get
out of the way.”
“No!” I block him. It’s impossible to say that I totally,
like, respect this girl even though I don’t know her. I can
just tell she’s someone special.
God, I wonder if she’s a princess!
I stand. “Look, I want to kiss her, but not in front of
you. Why don’t you go downstairs and steal those crowns?
The princess and I need some time alone.”
“Sure.” I can get him to put them back later. “But give
me ten minutes.”
“Okay, but I’ll be back soon.” He starts toward the door
and then turns back. “Hey, you don’t think it’s really stealing when they’re, like, never going to wake up?”
I sort of do, but I’m not the one doing the stealing, and
I want Travis gone. “Of course not.”
“Okay. See ya.” And he’s gone.
I’m alone in the room except for the girl. I touch her
hair again, and her cheek, now that I can do it without
Travis ragging on me. She sighs softly in her sleep. She’s
so beautiful, I wish she’d wake up so I could talk to her.
But it’s probably better this way. If she were awake, she
wouldn’t be into me.
That’s when I think of Snow White.
Snow White was Meryl’s favorite fairy tale. Of course,
being a boy, I thought it was lame. Still, she watched the
DVD maybe a thousand times, so I couldn’t help but know
the story, which is about a princess who eats a poisoned
Everyone thinks she’s dead. But then the prince kisses
her. She wakes up, and she and the prince live happily ever
Maybe I could wake her up.
Except, of course, I’m no prince.
And there’s all those other sleeping people. That didn’t
happen in Snow White.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to kiss her. I’d feel less like a sicko
if I think I’m trying to wake her.
I raise her up toward me. Her body is warm, and it’s like
nothing to lift her. Her dress is made of this soft velvet, and
when I pull her close, I can feel her heartbeat.
I wish I could see her eyes, but her face . . . her lips . . .
It’s kind of weird to kiss a girl if you don’t know her
name. But maybe I can make one up.
The name just comes to me. I don’t know where I got it
from. I’ve never known a Talia. Still, I’m sure it’s the perfect
“Talia,” I whisper.
She sighs in her sleep.
“Oh, Talia.” I pull her toward me, one hand in her hair,
supporting her head. I bring my face close to hers, and it’s
like I can see her whole life, being in this castle, isolated,
wishing for something more. I don’t know how I know it,
maybe the same way I know her name. Talia.
My lips are on hers. It’s a long kiss. I hold her closer,
feeling her hair, her body, her mouth, and then her hands
in my hair.
I don’t want to stop kissing her, especially since she’s
kissing me back, even if it’s in her sleep.
Still, finally, I have to pull away from her to breathe.
So I do.
“You’re so beautiful, Talia.”
I look straight into her grass green eyes. I’ve never seen
eyes that color before.
“Thank you, my prince,” she sighs.
Then the green eyes widen.
“Who are you?”
And that’s when she screams.
he’s awake! It really is like Snow White! Holy crap! But
I’m no prince. I’m just this regular guy from America—
a totally prince-free country—and she’s still awake.
She opens her mouth to scream again.
“Don’t scream.” I put my fingers over her lips, not like
a kidnapper or anything. “I’m not going to hurt you. Please
Not that it would matter if she did. I mean, there’s no
one awake to hear her.
She pushes my hand away.
“Explain yourself! Who are you? Why were you . . .
“I’m Jack. I wasn’t kissing you, exactly. You were passed out.
I was giving you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.” I lie because
I don’t want her to think I was attacking her or something.
“Mouth to . . . what? What are you saying? What is
Geez, she’s stupid. Beautiful, but dumb. Isn’t that always
Unless they don’t have mouth-to-mouth where—or
“Jack? Are you one of the dressmakers? What is that you
I look down. I have on kind of junky clothes, an Old
Navy Fourth of July flag T-shirt from last summer, and
jeans. The shirt’s all torn up from going through the bushes.
At least I pulled the jeans on over my swim trunks at the
last minute. “It’s a flag T-shirt.”
She looks confused at the word T-shirt and squints at it.
“Flag? From what country?”
“The United States. America. Yo soy Americano.”
“Where is that?”
“Other side of the ocean? Head west?” Maybe she hit
Her eyes light up with recognition. “Oh! You mean
Which is weird. Colonial Williamsburg is in Virginia.
Maybe all these people who pretend they’re historical
figures know each other, like some sort of club. “Yeah,
sort of. Not Virginia, exactly. Florida. But they’re both in
“And this is your flag? It is a custom, then, to wear it on
It seems kind of weird when you put it that way. “Not
“I see. So you have come from . . . ?”
“Then you must be here to show me dresses, for you are
certainly not visiting royalty.”
I’m not sure I like the way she says “certainly,” but I let it
go. The girl has definitely had a bad day. “What dresses?”
She gets a sort of faraway look on her face, then
“Now I remember. Before I . . . fainted, I suppose, I was
looking at dresses, such beautiful dresses, each the exact
shade of my eyes.”
She looks at me, and I notice again what gorgeous eyes
she has. I imagine what it would be like to have those eyes
focused on me.
“They are gone,” she says.
“I didn’t see any dresses. I swear.”
“But you were not here, either. It was just me and one
other person. A boy.” She smiles. “No. That was earlier.
But then there was a lady, an old woman. It was she who
brought the green dresses. She was spinning thread. She
told me I could make a wish.”
She stops speaking and turns away from me, toward
the window. “But why can I not remember? It just
“Maybe I can help you,” I say, kneeling beside her.
“Close your eyes.”
She gives me a look, like maybe I’m trying to trick her,
but she closes them. With her eyes closed, it’s like the lights
have gone out, and now it’s nighttime.
“Okay,” I say. “Now, try to picture it. You’re looking at
the pretty dresses, and there’s an old woman there. What
does she look like?”
“I could tell she was once beautiful. She had black eyes
that glittered like onyx.”
“She said you could have a wish, and then what?”
She places her hand over her eyes. “Oh, I have a
“What’s the next thing you remember?”
She breathes in deeply, then sighs. Finally, she says, “A
dream. It must be, for I was kissing a prince, my prince. He
was telling me how beautiful I was.”
“No! I have no friends, certainly none who are boys. I
have been nowhere, met no one.” She shakes her head. “It
was but a dream. Then I opened my eyes, and you were
kissing me.” She looks down a moment, examining something on her skirt. It looks like a spot of blood.
And suddenly, her eyes open fully, wider and greener
“What?” I back away. “What is it?”
“A kiss! You say I was sleeping, and you happened upon
“Yes. And did you think I was quite beautiful?” I
grimace, and she says, “Oh, never mind. Of course you
did. Everyone agrees that I am utterly stunning.”
She ignores me. “So you saw me, and I was so beautiful
that you immediately fell in love with me.”
This girl’s pretty full of herself, but it’s not far from the
truth. “Well, not—”
“You fell in love with me, and you leaned over and
kissed me. Love’s first kiss. And when you kissed me, I
woke immediately. Is that true?”
And suddenly, she begins to cry. “Oh, no. Oh, no. I am
a fool. Old pudding-faced Lady Brooke was right. I am a
stupid girl and ought never have been trusted for even a
minute on my own.”
“What are you talking about?” I want to put my arm
around her or something, but I get the feeling that wouldn’t
be a good idea.
“The curse, stupid!”
“Now I’m stupid? What happened to you being stupid,
and what curse?”
“The curse. The curse. Everyone knows about Malvolia’s
curse. Oh, my father will kill me. They will probably lock
me up in a convent!” She begins to sob again, and then seeing that I am still not with the program, she says, “Before
her sixteenth birthday, the princess shall prick her finger on
a spindle and die.”
“But you’re not dead.”
“No. The fairy Flavia changed it so I would merely
sleep. The whole kingdom would sleep, to wake only when
I was wakened by true love’s first kiss.”
“Uh-huh.” She’s nuts.
“The old lady was Malvolia, do you not see? She came
with the dresses, gained my trust. She had probably been
watching me all my life. She brought with her a spindle.
She knew I would make a wish, and when I did . . .”
“You’re saying she stabbed you with that spindle
“Exactly. It is the curse. I have made the curse come
And she starts blubbering harder.
“Hey, calm down,” I say. “It’s going to be okay.”
Now she stands and begins pacing. “They warned me
so many times. It is practically the only subject upon which
I conversed with my parents. It was their worst fear, and it
has come true.”
I try to think of what my parents’ worst fear is—me
not getting into college, maybe. Or having to go to one of
those community colleges that’s near a good school, so they
could just tell everyone “Jack went to Boston” or whatever.
But I say, “Exactly. It’s over. You went to sleep, and
you’re awake now because of me and my magical kiss. Your
parents will probably be so happy you’re okay that they
won’t even be mad.”
“Do you really think that?”
“Sure. It’s like this one time I totaled my car. My mom
was driving by, and she saw the wreck. She was so happy I
wasn’t dead that she didn’t even . . .” I stop. The princess
is staring at me like I’m speaking in tongues. “Anyway, I’m
sure they’ll just be okay with it. You’re their little princess,
She’s stopped crying, and now she nods. “Perhaps you
“I know I am.”
“What is the date? I need to know how long I have slept.”
I check my watch’s date feature. “It’s June twenty-third.”
“Oh, that is not so bad then. A month. I missed my
birthday party, which is a shame, and they will need to
explain to the guests, but still . . .”
Her eyes fall on my watch. “What is that?”
She picks up my wrist, examines it, then holds it to her
ear. “A clock? On your wrist? How strange.” She pulls back
from me and examines my clothes, the flag T-shirt.
“What is that?” She points to the numbers on the
“The year. Old Navy puts the year on all their flag
T-shirts. It’s sort of a racket, I guess—you have to buy a
new one every year.”
“That . . . is . . . the . . . year?” She looks sort of sick. Her
face is suddenly almost the same color green as her eyes.
“Well, I got it last year. We always get them for when we
go watch fireworks. But I probably won’t get one this year,
come to think of it, because—”
“That is the year? The year!”
“Well, last year.”
She begins to shake. “Oh, my . . . oh, no.” She crumples
back onto the floor, as she was when I first saw her. “It cannot be true. It cannot.”
I kneel beside her. “What’s the matter now? I thought
you were fine.”
She looks at me, then starts screaming. “Fine? Fine? I
have been asleep nearly three hundred years!”
Outside on the stairs, I hear a commotion, people running, then yelling.
Travis appears at the door. “Jack, we gotta go. They’re
all awake, and they’re after me for stealing the crown!”
hings get a little crazy then. There’s Travis at the door
and then two guards with actual swords. When they
come in, Travis starts yelling, “I don’t have them! Search
me if you don’t believe me—just don’t behead me!” One of
the swords swings around, and he jumps. “Get those things
away from me!”
Then a bunch more people show up. Most of them are
holding fancy old dresses.
Next is a woman, who I’m guessing is the one the princess called “pudding-faced Lady Brooke,” because her face
does look as beige and bland as vanilla pudding. Talia runs
to her, screaming with anguish. “Lady Brooke! I have done
it! I have done it!”
“Done what, dear?” Lady Brooke says.
“Ruined everything. I am so sorry.”
Travis has managed to edge away from the guards in the
confusion when the dressmakers showed up. Now, he tugs
my arm. “Come on, man.”
I start to go, glancing back at the princess, who’s still
“Wait!” the princess screams, loud enough to make
everyone in the room stop what they’re doing and look at
her. Everything is silent, and I realize that no one but Talia
and I know that they’ve been asleep for hundreds of years.
Finally, pudding-faced Lady Brooke says, “What now,
The princess points at me. “He cannot leave.”
“Because he has kissed me!”
Every eye in the room turns on me. The guards notice
Travis again, but this time they grab both of us.
“Have you defiled the princess?” one guard demands,
getting close with the sword.
“No . . . I mean, I don’t think so.”
“No!” Talia says. “I am not defiled in the least. But he
“Who are you?” Lady Brooke asks.
“I’m Jack O’Neill . . . from Florida . . . I guess I broke
some spell. No need to thank me. If you’ll just call off your
guard before he removes something, I’ll get going.”
The princess lunges toward me. “You cannot go. You have
broken the spell. Do you know what that means?” When I
don’t answer, she says, “It means you are my true love.”
“Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” Travis whispers.
I ignore him. “True love? But I don’t even know your
“My name?” She looks surprised. “Oh, well, that is easy
enough. Everyone knows that.”
“Except me.” Once you tell me, can I leave?
“Very well. It is probably best to have a proper introduction.” She looks at Pudding Face and says, “Lady Brooke.”
Lady Brooke nods, although she doesn’t look happy
about it, and gestures toward me. “Jack O’Neill, of Florida,
you are presented to Her Royal Highness, Princess Talia.”
“It is customary to bow at this time,” Talia says.
“Your name is Talia? I didn’t know . . .”
“And yet, that is what you called me when you . . .”
“I know.” I shake my head. “I mean, I didn’t know your
name, but somehow I guessed or something. It was weird,
like someone told it to me.”
She nods. “True love. It was meant to be.”
“Look,” I say, “I might want to go out sometime, but as
far as true love—”
“But you woke me! And I can only be awakened by
true love’s kiss. And besides, I am a beautiful princess. How
could you not love me?”
Travis looks at Talia, then at the hands of the guards
who are holding him, and then back at Talia. “So, um, Your
Royalness, do you think you could maybe let us go?”
“Yeah, it’s—ah—getting late.” It’s actually only twelve
thirty, but who knows if these people can even tell time.
“Our tour group’s waiting for us.”
“Highness, this one is a thief !” the guard behind
Travis says. “And if this person was with him, he must be
“I’m no thief,” I say, “and neither is Travis.”
“The crown was in his hands!” says the guard.
“He didn’t take anything, and I’m the one who broke the
curse and saved you all. Doesn’t that count for anything?”
“What curse?” Lady Brooke says. “What is he talking
Talia ignores her. “Yes. Guards, you must unhand this
gentleman at once. He is an honored guest and a friend of
my future husband. You must both stay for supper.”
Future husband? Does she mean me? “Excuse me, but I’m
“Talia . . .” Lady Brooke says. “You cannot mean to
invite this . . . this . . . commoner to supper. It is the eve of
your birthday ball.”
Talia starts to cry again. “No, Lady Brooke. Do you not
understand? I have touched a spindle! A spindle! We have
all been asleep for a great while, and this . . .” She gestures
toward me. “This commoner has awakened me.”
“You have touched a spindle, you say?” Lady Brooke’s
puddingy jaw is hanging.
“A spindle, you say?”
Lady Brooke cradles her forehead in her hands. “I have
left you alone for ten minutes, and you touched a spindle
and slept for . . . for . . .”
“Three hundred years.”
“Ah!” Lady Brooke looks like she’s been stabbed. “Oh,
not again, not again . . .” She recovers. “And you have been
awakened by a . . . a . . .”
“Really great guy?” I volunteer.
Talia nods. “He will stay for supper.” She looks at me.
“You will stay for supper?”
I nod. I can handle it if that’s what it takes for them to
let me go—even though they’ll probably serve squirrel or
something. “That’s fine. Just let me call the hotel and tell
them where we are.” I take out my cell phone.
“What is that?” Princess Talia says.
“A phone.” She keeps staring at it. In fact, everyone
stops what they’re doing, gathers around, and stares. “You
can, um, talk to people on it.”
Except I can’t get a signal. Duh. There’s no tower here.
Suddenly, it dawns on me what Talia said: I have been asleep
nearly three hundred years! If that’s true, this place is like a
time warp. Princess Talia really did screw things up.
And all I’m thinking is, How did they go so long without
eating or peeing?
Everyone’s still staring at the phone, which lights up
and makes beeping noises. Think how jacked they’d get if
it actually worked.
“We have to go there,” I say. “They’ll be waiting for
“But surely your friends must have known of your journey,” Talia says.
“We sort of sneaked off.”
“Then we must send a messenger,” Talia says. “Simply
tell me the name of the inn in which you are staying, and
it shall be done.”
Problem one: I have no idea where the hotel is. Problem
two: There’s a huge hedge around the whole country. Problem
three: I am not—and I mean not—marrying this princess.
“Does this help?” Travis pulls a postcard out of his
pocket. It has a photo of our hotel on the front. This causes
another spasm of activity as everyone has to gather around
to look at the photo. Finally, Travis says, “The address is on
the back, I think.”
Talia hands it to Pudding Face, who looks dangerously
close to fainting. She examines it a moment, then says,
“That is two days’ journey.”
It seemed pretty far but not two days.
“Nah,” Travis says. “It was about two hours on the
Pudding Face looks puzzled. “Bus?”
“Yah. It’s sort of like a car only . . . you got the wheel
here? Has that been invented yet?”
Talia straightens her shoulders, and even Lady Brooke
seems to have recovered enough to glare at Travis.
“I guess it has,” Travis says. “Well, a bus is sort of a wheel
thing with a motor, and fast.” He looks at them. “Okay, I
can see you don’t get the bus thing. Maybe I could, like,
take your guards out and show it to them if, um, they’d let
go of me and get their swords out of my butt.”
Talia nods. “Do as he says.”
The guards look disappointed, but they let go of Travis,
and he gestures to them to follow him. “Hey, do you guys
have a chain saw?” Travis is saying as they leave.
When he is gone, Talia turns to me. “Well, then, we
must find you some proper clothing. If we are to marry,
you must meet my father.” Then, in case I don’t get it, she
adds, “The king. So we can arrange the wedding.”
Lady Brooke finally topples to the ground. I’m pretty
close to joining her.
I should have stayed with the tour!
y life is ruined.
I dispatch Lady Brooke to find Jack a room
and some clothing. Then I go back to the task I began,
I thought, this morning, but apparently almost three
hundred years ago—choosing dresses for the ball. There
is no reason not to have a ball. Yes, I am three hundred
sixteen years old (give or take a year) rather than sixteen
years old, but since I have neither starved to death, nor
died of thirst while asleep, it seems as though my body
has been somehow suspended in time all these years.
Besides, Jack would not have kissed me had I been a
crone. Therefore, tomorrow will still be my sixteenth
birthday, and I am still entitled to my party, so I still
The bad news is that the most beautiful dresses were
supplied by someone whom I now know was an evil witch
bent upon destroying me because she was annoyed at not
being invited to a previous party (I will say, Father and
Mother were rather shortsighted in not simply inviting
her—what would it have cost, an extra pheasant and
perhaps some turnips?), so I will need to continue my
I venture into the first, then the second room. I know I
should go looking for Mother and Father, but I simply cannot face them yet. I do not want to tell them what I have
done. They will never forgive me.
It is in the third room that I see Father. He looks
“Talia, I am so glad to have found you.”
Although, truthfully, he does not look glad in the least.
“I have terrible news,” he continues. “The ball must be
“But why?” Although I have some idea why. He has discovered my folly with the spindle, and he means to punish
me. I prepare to bawl, possibly to wail. I am an excellent
But Father says something even more surprising.
“I do not know, my pet. It seems there are no guests.”
“No guests? Whatever do you mean?”
“It is the queerest thing. The lookouts saw the first ships
off in the distance at nine o’clock. By ten thirty, some were
on the verge of entering the harbor. But then they simply
“Disappeared?” I repeat what he has said to give me
time to think.
Father nods. “I fear, daughter, that there is something
afoot here, that we might be on the verge of war, or worse,
that I may have been victimized by black magic, the dark
art of the witch Malvolia.”
Malvolia. Oh, no. In an instant, I understand what happened to the ships. They did not turn around, nor were
they bewitched, not really. They may have tried to enter
our harbor. But when they did, it was not there. The kingdom was obscured from sight by a giant wood, as Flavia
said in her idiotic spell. They thought they had gone to
the wrong place. The guests, the visiting royalty, even the
special prince who might have been my husband, they have
been dust for centuries, and I am merely a three-hundredsixteen-or-so-year-old princess with absolutely no prospects
It will take a great deal of tact to explain this to Father.
“I am sorry, my dear daughter.”
He is sorry. Would it be possible simply to feign ignorance of the whole situation? Pretend I have no idea
what happened to the ships, no comprehension of what
caused—I am certain—numerous additional changes to
But I remember Jack’s clothing and the strange flashing
object he carried with him, Travis’s talk of buses. Certainly
the world changed during our three-hundred-year hibernation, as surely as it changed during the three hundred years
before that, and as soon as Father remarks the changes, he
will understand their cause. If he does not, Lady Brooke
will be certain to tell him.
“Father?” I touch his shoulder.
“Yes, my princess?”
“I believe . . .” I take his arm, sweet as I can, and guide
him toward a chair. “I believe you should sit down.”
He does, and when he does, I begin to tell my story.
“I touched the spindle, and then at the next moment, a
commoner named Jack was waking me up,” I conclude.
Father is silent.
“Father? Are you . . . is everything quite all right?”
“You say you touched a spindle, Talia? A spindle?”
“It was no fault of mine.”
“No fault of yours? It was every fault of yours.” He
looks, suddenly, like God’s revenge against murder. “Have
we taught you nothing? How many times have we told
you—cautioned you—about spindles? It was the first word
you learned, the last thing you heard before bed at night,
the one lesson of any import: Do not touch spindles. And
you forgot it—ignored it?”
“I said I was sorry.”
“Sorry? Do you not understand that we are ruined?”
“Ruined?” Father is making quite a fuss. “Certainly it is
“Inconvenient! Talia, do you not understand? Could
you be so stupid?”
I feel tears springing to my eyes yet again. He has never
spoken to me in this manner. “Father, your voice. Everyone
will hear you.”
“What does it matter? If, as you say, we have all slept
these three hundred years, we are ruined, destroyed—you,
I, the entire kingdom. We have no kingdom. We have no
trade. We have no allies to defend us. Mark my words, it
will not be long before everyone realizes that my daughter
is the stupidest girl on earth.”
“But . . . but . . .” I can hold back my tears no longer,
and when I look at my father, I see something horrible. He
is struggling to hold back his own. My father, the king, the
most powerful man in all Euphrasia, is weeping, and it is
my fault, all my fault.
“It was a mistake!”
“You cared for no one but yourself, Talia, and we
are paying the price. It would have been better had you
engaged in any other youthful indiscretion—running
away, even eloping—rather than this one. This has
affected everyone, and it is unforgivable.”
My father’s words strike like daggers. He would rather
see me gone than have me do what I did. He hates me.
“I am sorry, Father.”
He looks at the floor. “Perhaps, Talia, you ought to go
to your room.”
Yes. Perhaps I should go and never come out—which is
probably what is planned for me, anyway. I nod and start
for the door. Then I remember something I must tell him,
although at this point, I would much rather not. Still, if
Father despises me, I have nothing to lose. I have already
“What is it now, Talia?”
“The boy, the one who woke me from my sleep . . . I
have invited him to stay at the castle and to have supper
Father stares at me. “Supper?”
“Yes. It seemed the proper thing to do.”
He makes an attempt to straighten his shoulders but
fails. “Yes.” The word comes out as a sigh. “Yes, I suppose
And then, before I can say anything else, Father turns
on his heel and leaves. I wait a minute to make sure he is
gone before leaving the room myself.
I am passing through the guest chambers on the way to my
own room when I hear a voice.
“Excuse me? Talia? Um, Your Highness.”
I stop. Jack! They must have placed him in this room.
I approach the door. “Yes?”
Indeed, it is him. This commoner, this boy I am supposed to marry, this nobody who has ruined everything.
And yet . . . he is wearing more appropriate clothing, in
which he looks handsome, yet quite uncomfortable at the
same time, as befits a member of the nobility. “Um, sorry
to bother you, Princess.”
“No bother.” Although, in truth, I would much rather
be alone with my grief. My face burns. Soon, everyone will
know of my stupidity and humiliation, that I have ruined
the kingdom, and soon I will be the most ruined of all.
“Your dad seemed upset.”
I nod, unable to speak. So he had heard.
“But what he said,” Mr. Jack O’Neill continues, “about
the hundred years’ sleep?”
“Three hundred! We have slept three hundred years,
and we are ruined, and it is all my fault.” I try not to sob
again. Were I a few years (or a few hundred years) younger,
I could throw myself on the floor with impunity, but as it
is, I simply stand there, gasping for breath.
Jack stands there, too, looking down. I wonder if he
heard Father call me the stupidest girl on earth. Probably
the whole castle did. Finally, he says, “Can I get you something, like a Kleenex?” I have no idea what a Kleenex is, but
he reaches into his pocket and procures a bit of paper, sort
of a paper handkerchief.
I take it and sniffle into it. I try not to snuff too loudly.
However, I have been crying very hard. So finally, I have
to give in and snort like one of the horses so that, in addition to being the stupidest girl in all Euphrasia—nay, the
world—I might also be the most disgusting.
To his credit, Jack pretends not to notice, and his kindness
sends forth the torrent of tears I have been trying to avoid.
When I finish, he says, “My dad can be kind of a jerk,
too. But I didn’t think princesses had to deal with that.”
“I am not even certain I am a princess any longer. Can
I still be a princess if Euphrasia is no longer a country? It is
all my fault! I am so stupid!”
“You’re not stupid. You messed up. I mess up all the
Messed up? I move away from him, wondering if my
face is blotchy, if I am hideous now, in addition to being
stupid and disgusting. But I catch a bit of my reflection in
the mirror attached to the wall. No, Violet’s gift has held
true. I am still beautiful. Perfect, in every way save one.
He continues. “From what I’m getting, you had a curse
placed upon you—that before your sixteenth birthday, you
would prick your finger on a spindle. Right?”
I nod. “Right.”
“My dad, he’s a businessman, and he’s always looking at
the wording of things. So that’s how it was phrased? ‘Before
her sixteenth birthday, the princess shall prick her finger on
a spindle . . .’ not ‘the princess might prick her finger’ or ‘if
she is not careful, she will’?”
I nod. “But I was supposed to take care. Mother and
Father always said—”
He holds up his hand. “Meaning no disrespect to
them, either. I guess they were trying to protect you, but
I don’t think you could have kept from getting pricked
with the spindle if it was part of the curse. It had to
“But . . .” I stop. I rather like the way this young man is
thinking. In fact, he is quite handsome for a peasant. “Do
you really think so?”
“I do.” There is conviction in his eyes. “This witch put
that curse on you, and that was that—you were going to
touch it. Maybe she even enchanted you to make you touch
the spindle. It was your destiny.”
“Destiny.” I like the sound of it, particularly because it
means that this whole fiasco is not my fault.
“Yeah, destiny, like how it was Anakin Skywalker’s destiny to be Darth Vader.”
I have not the slightest idea what he is talking about.
“But that does not change the fact that Father believes
me a fool and thinks it is all my fault that our country is
ruined.” I remember what Father said earlier, about how he
would rather I had run away and eloped. I gaze at Mr. Jack
O’Neill. He is tall, and his brown eyes are quite intoxicating, and in that moment, I see my escape. “Do you think
perhaps . . . ?”
I cannot ask it.
But he says, “What, Your Highness?”
His eyes are kind as well.
“Talia. Call me Talia, for I am about to ask you to . . .
take me with you.”
“What?” He backs away three steps, as if he has been
pushed. When he recovers himself, his voice is a whisper,
and he glances at the door. “I can’t.”
“Why not? If it is because I am a princess and you are
a commoner, this matters not. I am an outcast now. Father
despises me. They all . . .” I gesture toward the window,
indicating the ground below, the land, the people. “They
all shall hate me soon enough. Their crops are dead. Their
food has rotted. They should be long dead and rotted
themselves, but because of me, they are alive still, only the
whole world has changed around them.”
“But I’m only seventeen. I can’t be responsible for a
princess. I can barely get my homework done.”
“Whyever not? Seventeen is a grown man. Surely, you
must be learning a trade—like blacksmithing or making
“Sort of. I go to school. That’s what everyone does
Now. Everything is different now. But I must change it.
I was destined to prick my finger upon a spindle, and I did.
But there was another part of the curse. I was to be wakened by true love’s first kiss. That kiss was Jack’s. Therefore,
he must be my true love, even though he seems rather lazy
and unpleasant, and I wonder how he could have gotten
through the wood to the kingdom. He does not seem to
appreciate the great opportunity he has been given, marriage to one gifted by the fairies with beauty and grace and
musical talent and intelligence. I must make him realize it.
I must make him my true love, if I am going to fulfill my
“Well,” I say, “in any case, you must join us for
“Okay,” he says. “Supper’s okay. Marriage—not so
I pretend to agree, but I know that I must make him fall
in love with me, whether he wants to or not.
’m wearing something halfway between pants and tights,
a red jacket, a ruffly shirt, and boots, all too small. At
least they don’t wear kilts in this country.
I crack the door (which is ten feet tall) open and look
into the hallway.
A guard rushes toward me. “May I help you, sir?”
“Um, is there any food around here?”
The guy looks down. “I shall check, sir.”
He doesn’t move.
I close the door, my stomach growling like an ATV
pulling through mud. It’s been four hours since I kissed the
princess. I know that from checking my cell phone, which
is now useful only as a clock. I turn it off again to save the
battery. It’s not like there’s any place to recharge it.
Of course, Travis took the sandwiches with him when
he ditched me to go to the hotel. Bet he doesn’t come back.
I kept the beer, but it’s probably not a good idea to drink it
on an empty stomach. I wonder if this is just a really fancy
I go to the window for about the tenth time. There’s no
chance of escaping out the door. The hallway is crowded
with people waiting to do my bidding. But no one wants
to help me escape (and, really, where could I go in these
pants?). The window’s not much better. It’s at least four
stories up and made of this thick glass like in churches. No,
my best bet is to have dinner, then sneak out when they all
go back to sleep.
Of course, after three hundred years, they’re probably
pretty well rested.
I should have stayed with the tour group. Sure, the
museums were boring, but at least the people were from
Someone knocks at the door.
They knock again. The door’s so thick they can’t
even hear through it. I walk across the room and open it.
“Begging your pardon, sir.” It’s some servant guy in an
outfit that is—I need to mention—way less froufrou than
what they gave me to wear. “His Majesty apologizes for the
delay in getting supper. There have been . . . difficulties.”
My stomach growls loudly.
I’m scared to find out what these people eat. My mom’s
a real freak about germs and salmonella, and this doesn’t
seem like the type of place that has sanitary cooking facilities or even a decent oven. Didn’t people used to die at,
like, age thirty-five in the 1700s, or even younger? And
didn’t they have plagues with rats and stuff?
If I have to die, I hope I don’t die in tights.
What we’re having for dinner is meat. Lots of meat and
mushrooms and strawberries.
Talia’s parents are there. Her father—the king—is a
skinny guy with red hair, and he actually looks sort of like
the Burger King, only the Burger King looks a lot friendlier
and happy about burgers and stuff.
“I apologize for the fare,” he’s telling the group. Besides
Talia and me, there’s Pudding Face, the queen (an older
version of Talia), and a bunch of other people introduced
as lords and ladies. There are also two women Talia says
are fairies, but I must have heard her wrong. “But, you see,
all our crops died when my daughter put us to sleep for
three hundred years, and the food we had has long since
Talia looks away, but I can see her hands are trembling.
She looks great, though, especially in that dress she’s
wearing, a green one you can see down. She’s stopped crying. She sits beside me and keeps staring at me with those
eyes of hers.
“I am sorry, Father,” she says. When the king doesn’t
answer, I see her glance toward the door.
I decide to change the subject. “So where’d you get the
mushrooms . . . um, Your Highness?”
“Your Majesty,” Talia whispers.
One of the fairy women turns to the other, and when
she does, I see that there are wings sprouting from her back.
She whispers, “Him? He’s her destiny?”
“Shush,” whispers the other.
“That is quite all right, Talia,” the king says. “I am certain this young man is unused to dining with royalty in . . .
Florida, is it?”
“A Spanish colony, if I recall, and rather a wasteland.
Has it changed much in three hundred years?”
“Um, a little.”
“The hunters found the mushrooms in the forest,” the
“Are they okay to eat?” I ask. It’s probably a rude question, and actually a hallucinogenic mushroom could hit
the spot right about now.
The king shrugs. “Does it truly matter at this point?”
Talia flinches when he says that. The king takes a large
forkful of the mushrooms, chews, and swallows them. We
all watch. He doesn’t fall over or barf or anything.
“They are acceptable,” he says finally.
I don’t ask what the meat is, but Talia says, “Is not the
“A bit tough after it has been drowsing three hundred
years.” The king glares at Talia. “But it will have to do.”